The nice thing about living with another book lover is that when I’m between books and want to pick up something to read, I can just peruse the shelves, and I’m sure to find something new. The upside is this can lead me to discover books I would probably never have sought out on my own. The downside is my options are often limited and are heavily weighted towards nautical fiction and British history. So recently when I was trying to decide on what new adventure I should embark, I saw Kidnapped and thought, “Robert Louis Stevenson, classic, adventure story, interesting typeface. . .why the hell not!”
Kidnapped is the story of a young man named David Balfour who, after the death of his parents, seeks out his kinsman, a man named Ebenezer who lives in Cramond (that’s in Scotland). When he arrives in Cramond Parish and starts asking around for the House of Shaws, the reaction of the villagers is more than a trifle alarming. In response to the question, what sort of man is Ebenezer, a local responds, “. . .nae kind of man, nae kind of man at all.” Alright, that certainly sounds ominous. That response is mild compared to that of the sour-looking woman whom David meets next. When he tells her where he’s going, she flips out, spits on the ground, and calls down a curse on Ebenezer and his house. As David disregards this warning and continues to head toward his uncle’s home, all I can do is shake my head and channel the creepy housekeeper from Get Out.
Ebenezer is just as excited as you might think a paranoid old man would be about a punk-ass kid appearing out of nowhere, which is to say, not very. I get more excited when my high school alumni association tracks me down, and I’ve moved out of state and changed my name just to avoid such contact. After reluctantly letting David in, Ebenezer informs the young man that he is David’s uncle (his father’s brother), and then sets about making him feel unwelcome by attempting to kill him.
Remarkably, this makes David suspicious. He deduces that he may be the rightful heir to the estate and that’s why his uncle is trying to get rid of him. Ebenezer promises to tell David the whole story the next day, and they go to sleep. I ask you, who in his right mind would go to sleep under these circumstances? Sure, Ebenezer is a weak old man, and David locks him in his room, but the guy just tried to kill him and now he has an obvious motive. I can’t decide if David has balls of brass or shit for brains.
The next day as Ebenezer starts to tell David his story, they are interrupted by a cabin boy from the ship Covenant who tells Ebenezer that the ship’s captain needs to speak with him. Somehow Ebenezer convinces David to go along with him to see the captain, promising to take David to see his lawyer right afterwards to sort out all this personal family business. During the visit, the captain offers to take David on board for a look around. Are you thinking what I’m thinking?
And. . . he goes. He goes. On board. The ship. Unless Ebenezer is secretly Jedi there’s no way that mind trick should have worked.
“Brains of shit, you have.”
Which brings us to the title of this story: Kidnapped! Yup, our hero is knocked out and taken out to sea, where he has all manner of adventures. I won’t spoil the rest of the story for you, but it involves shipwrecks, Scottish rebels, assassinations, and comeuppances. Sort of. In the end, David does get some of his inheritance, but Ebenezer keeps 1/3 of the fortune and doesn’t go to prison or die or anything. If this story took place in 2008, Ebenezer would have complained without irony about the loss of his liquidity and hung a Lehman Brothers sign over Shaw Manor.
So overall, Kidnapped didn’t change my life. However, I do have to give credit to this particular version of the story for restoring the original text of the novel. Apparently, when the novel was published in 1886, the English publisher cut out many of the Scottish words and phrases that Stevenson had originally included in his handwritten manuscript, because the English have always been wankers to the Scots. Either that or the publisher thought readers would be flummoxed by the odd Scottish phrases.
Even Siri cannae understand me.
Then in 1999, Barry Menikoff, a literature professor at the University of Hawaii and Robert Louis Stevenson aficionado, published text that he reproduced from Stevenson’s original writings. So now we have kennts and dinnaes and buckies, which I honestly think is pretty nifty even if it takes a little more effort on the reader’s part. I mean it’s not like they’re asking you to follow the conversations in Trainspotting.
WTF did that actor just say?